50 Gray

No, this is not a post about Fifty Shades of Grey. My sister-in-law gave me that book for my birthday and I haven’t gotten into it yet. But apparently the whole thing is bondage and sex, which she must feel I could use some of at the moment.

Rather, this is about the planning session I attended this morning for my radiotherapy treatments. One “gray,” which was defined in honour of Louis Harold Gray, is the absorption of one joule of energy, in the form of ionising radiation, per kilogram of matter. It just so happens that my prescribed dose is 50 gray, delivered in 25 sessions. It’s bound to be loads more fun than mummy (that’s mommy if you are in America — I am not making a reference to dead ancient Egyptians) porn, delivered in 500 some odd pages. Not.

So I left my house at about 9:10 am and in it FIVE girls (my kids and my good friend’s three kids, because my friend had a doctor’s appointment at that same time and needed childcare), the housekeeper and the nanny.

For once in my life I left enough time to take the tube. And I even brought a book so I would have something to do on the tube. On the platform after exiting at Warren Street I caught site of the very nice woman and fellow survivor I had met while getting my nails done a few weeks ago (remember her from Why I’m Lucky?) and I even remembered her name. Is that proof enough for you that I don’t have chemo brain? I called out, she turned and we ended up walking all the way to the place together. She’d been there, you see. Been there; done that.

The planning session consisted of meeting with a radiographer (or whatever the appropriate term is) for an initial Q&A, during which I always ask about a billion questions and make things take twice as long. I can’t help it. Inquiring minds want to know.

Prior to that I was greeted by two very pleasant, well-mannered ladies who offered me a cappuccino and even took and rinsed out my thermos, which contained a yucky coffee I had brought from home and wanted to discard because I had inadvertently grabbed the housekeeper’s coffee and it had sugar in it. Blech. Taste bud shock. You would never get this service in the US. Would you? Tell me where if I am wrong; I’d love to know.

Then I went into the scan room where the team positioned me on this table with my arms above my head and then drew all over me and placed wires and whatnots on me and took measurements. Laser beams from the ceiling made marks on me so that they could tell if I was properly aligned. Pretty cool, really. There were three or four ladies with one dude in charge of the proceedings.

Here is a thought. The dude was young and good-looking, and there I was disrobed from the waist up, with my weird “newbs” out, and I didn’t even feel the slightest bit self-conscious. All modesty has gone right out the window with this thing. In fact I was making them all crack up. After my oncologist’s radiographer had put ink and wires all over me, she snapped a couple of photos of the area and I said “this isn’t exactly the nude photo shoot I had been dreaming of… but it will have to do.” She also asked me where I was from and when I indicated I had spent a good deal of time in Manhattan having grown up in Connecticut and been most recently from Boston she wanted to know if we really used the word “smock” in New York. “What?” I said. “Smock,” she repeated. I said I had no idea what she was talking about. Then she said that her husband had bumped someone at the airport and the man had called him “a smock.” Ha ha. “Oh yes,” I replied. “I believe the term you are looking for is ‘Schmuck,’ not ‘smock.'” Now if that doesn’t make you laugh you are truly brain-dead. The English. Good grief.

Anyhow then they took all that crap off me and did the CT scan — it was very quick. Following that, one of the radiographers made three small tattoos on my skin with a blueish ink. One in between my “boobs” and one on either side of my body on the rib cage. That helps them line me up with the lasers and make sure that I am positioned correctly for all radiation sessions. Although I wasn’t deliriously happy about being tattooed and having yet another reminder of all this cancer shit, I figured it made sense to let them do their thing so they get it right. Over time I won’t mind these marks much. They are just little blueish freckles.

After all the fun was over I had another session with a nurse who talked to me about potential side effects, mainly fatigue and skin effect (burning, blistering and breakdown — the three “B’s”). She indicated that the skin reactions are cumulative. Usually the skin doesn’t react right away. It generally happens after about two plus weeks in. I am hoping that this lovely 10% calendula cream called My Girls Cream (tee hee) that was sent to me by a fellow survivor in the US helps me sail through the treatments without too much burning or skin breakdown. Those photons can be mighty hard on a girl (or a guy for that matter).

Then I was done. Feeling pretty good about the whole morning. Not so long; not so bad.

Until I got home and found out that the five little devils had made two holes in my girls’ bedroom walls. The two five-year-olds barricaded themselves in Charlotte’s room and went at this rather soft part of the wall (I don’t know why it is soft but it is) with a pair of scissors and by the time it was discovered had hammered about a four-inch-high narrow gash in the wall out of which dust, dirt and debris (the three “D’s”) was falling out and staining the carpet (thank God for replaceable carpet tiles).

Meanwhile on the other side of the wall, the big girls had exacerbated a small dent that had already been in Isabel’s wall, which now also had the three D’s coming out of it.

All I could think was WTF. Are you kidding me? My girls are lucky I am too weak to give them a good beating. I told Bill about the episode in an email and of course he thought it was mostly funny. Which I suppose it is, in the long run. But seriously, holes in the wall? I told them if they want to fuck up their own house when they are adults they can do so but until then this behaviour is 100% unacceptable.

Here I thought the hardest part of my day was having radiation planning. But it wasn’t. I guess that is something to be thankful for in itself, no? After lunch, at which no one was allowed to get dessert (duh), we went home and things improved. My girls read and did art projects and ended the evening by putting on bathing suits and 3D glasses, getting beach towels and pretending to sun bathe (it was neither warm nor sunny enough for such) in the garden. And I retaliated by whipping up a killer marinara sauce (no recipe) in which I hid an entire zucchini. My kids hate zucchini. I still haven’t told them they ate it right up. Little blighters. Ha ha.

Zero Plus Seven

Here we are seven days after my last chemotherapy treatment. I figure I have about another week or so of current side effects settling down and maybe a few new ones popping up and then I am on the downhill road to recovery from that mess.

Right now I am experiencing one of my least favourite, yet still manageable, symptoms. Pain under my finger nails. It makes it hard to do things with my hands, like open bottle caps and fire handguns and such. It is an annoying reminder that my body is still processing the last of the poison.

But to know that this is it, the last time, is truly a great feeling. I figure in a few days some dermatological nonsense will pop out somewhere and following that I will be pretty much home free.

Just in the nick of time too. My remaining eyebrows and lashes are getting pretty lonely and they would like to invite their friends to come back and play. I have given up on mascara and now just do eyeliner right in the lash line so I don’t look too much like my eighty-three-year-old father (sorry, Dad, you still look good, but I am forty-three years your junior and female and it isn’t the look I’m going for).

That and I fill in the holes in my eyebrows with an eyebrow pencil, which I have never previously had to do. Hell, I didn’t even own an eyebrow pencil before. I’m getting pretty good at it but it isn’t a skill I’d like to continue to hone. Some people say that post chemo their lashes and brows never really came back as thick as they were before. With my luck that will happen yet I will grow back a raging moustache and side burns and some industrial leg hair.  Attractive.

Wanna hear the latest thing? My dermatologist wants to biopsy the shingles scar on my head. Just in case. She said she isn’t thrilled with how it has healed. Really? Give a girl a break. I have been on chemo and it was a really nasty scab… so it’s still a bit discoloured. Geez. But okay cut me again. That and I am having a dark mole on my right forearm removed and biopsied. If that fucker even thinks about coming back abnormal I am going to go postal.

In other news we made a delicious recipe from The Cancer-Fighting Kitchen tonight. A Mediterranean salad with lentils, cucumber, red pepper, mint, parsley, a little feta and some other exciting ingredients. That and some super fresh melt-in-your-mouth halibut from the mean fishmonger (see All Dressed Up and No Place To Go if you aren’t familiar with the mean fishmonger). The last time Agnieszka (our nanny) was there though they smiled at her (both of them!) and she didn’t even have to work for it. We might get to the point where we take bets on what mood they will be in on any given day.

Smile or no smile I have been eating more fish. And I need to eat still more. Including the oily varieties that are crammed with Omega 3 fatty acids and come in tins and are quite fishy. I need to embrace the mackerel and the sardine. And I can actually handle that, though no one else may be able to handle my killer breath after such a repast. Aw, well. Not all of me can be sexy all the time.

Tomorrow morning I have my CT scan and tattoos (yes they make little tattoos like freckles so they know where to line up the machine every time) for my radiation. That ought to be a barrel of laughs. Maybe I will have them do some extra tattoos while they are at it. Submit your proposals now for what it should say on the back of my head before it’s too late and my hair has grown back. (I was thinking in terms of Leave My Fucking Shingles Scar Alone or something equally catchy).

Well, I have to get into that third Hunger Games book now and eat a piece of dark chocolate for medicinal purposes. Have a good night.


You know what’s great? The second chemo drug I am on, Taxol, has not caused me the queasiness, metal mouth, taste bud changes and other annoying shit that the first drugs (AC) caused. Consequently I’ve been eating my way through the month of May. And cooking up a storm. I’ve definitely put on a couple pounds because of it too, which probably isn’t a bad thing.

You might think that cooking is the last thing a chemo patient would want to do. But it’s become one of my favourite activities. Makes me feel rejuvenated. Healthy. In control of what I’m eating and what I’m tasting. ALIVE. It’s, as Martha Stewart would say, a good thing.

I really have to thank my friend, Dee, who gifted me The Cancer-Fighting Kitchen by Rebecca Katz. This is not just a cookbook for people who have, had or are being treated for cancer. It’s something anyone can enjoy if the name doesn’t give you the schkeeves. And if it does would you put-lease just grow up and get over it? Who couldn’t use some good cancer-fighting chow in his kitchen, anyhow?

Tonight I made carrot fennel soup. I bought this ridiculously overpriced American blender (the Blendtek) and I have been using it a lot to justify the price tag. Well, it was my fortieth birthday present to myself, so it didn’t require that much justification. But still. I’ve been having fresh fruit and vegetables delivered every week from an organic farm (no it isn’t Abel & Cole so don’t ask me that) and the fun part is that I never know what’s coming. So when the ingredients arrive, I take a look and figure out what I’m going to make.

The cookbook has had a recipe for me every time. Tonight’s contained olive oil, onion, fennel, carrots, cinnamon, cumin, allspice, red pepper flakes, sea salt, orange zest, fresh orange and lemon juice and vegetable broth. Ooh and a dash of maple syrup. That’s right! There’s nothing bad for you in there (unless you put too much salt or syrup but we don’t do that here).

One of my kids said it was delicious. The other one didn’t rave but at least kept dipping her green beans in it during the meal. I had two bowls. And my husband will be home soon so I better hear spoon scraping the bottom of the bowl in the next thirty minutes. Or I’ll be pissed (in the American sense — I am not on a bender).

I’d like to give some to the crying baby next door, maybe with an extra dose of red pepper flakes for the parents. I swear these people don’t know how to put a child to sleep. Two days with me and the kid would go right to bed. It seriously cries every night and we have been here almost a year. WTF.

This book contains a glossary of ingredients and their cancer-fighting properties. I haven’t vetted the science behind the claims but the recipes are great and easy, the food tastes wonderful and it all makes me feel so… so… so… cancer free. So I think it is working. Helping me kill it but in a very tasty way. Lots more fun than surgery, chemo and radiation combined.

So thank you, Dee, for this wonderful gift that just keeps on giving. I can’t wait until the next farm delivery so I can whip up another winner. And I need to have you over soon so that I can show you what all the fuss is about.